So When Is The Next Mario Game Coming Out?

When we discussed the proper time to buy the next iteration in a game series, we did so with the implicit assumption that there was, in fact, a next iteration to buy. What happens when that isn’t the case?

The Mario brand is one of the most recognizable (and lucrative) in the world, and while its popularity was built on several decades of video games, the franchise really seems to be having a moment in 2023 with the upcoming release of the Super Mario Bros. movie. The film represents a big opportunity for Nintendo, not only to wash away the bad taste of the original live-action film featuring the brothers in 1993 (which I contend wasn’t that bad…but wasn’t that good either), but to introduce their characters to an audience outside of gaming, and perhaps entice a few of them to try a Mario game to see what they’ve been missing.

…Except that when said few go to experience the latest and greatest in Mario, they’ll find that no such game exists: The newest mainline Mario game (Super Mario Odyssey) released back in 2017, an eternity in gaming (and in real life as well, given how long ago 2017 feels like thanks to the pandemic). They could take a flyer on 2019’s Super Mario Maker 2, but its hit-or-miss user-generated content can make it feel like a very un-Mario experience at times, and that game was unceremoniously abandoned less than a year after its release. Mario Kart Tour also released in 2019, serving as a mobile complement to a game (Mario Kart 8) that was released almost ten years ago. It’s been three years since the underwhelming Paper Mario: The Origami King, and two years since the even-more-underwhelming Mario Golf: Super Rush. There just hasn’t been a ton of movement on the Mario front for a while now, despite the fact that now seems like the best time to release a new adventure.

Games like Super Mario Odyssey 2 or Mario Kart 9 have been rumored for a while now, but there hasn’t been any evidence that any such titles are even in development. So what gives? Why is Nintendo keeping its biggest franchise in mothballs, even when things like the Super Mario Bros. movie and the opening of Super Nintendo World provide such huge opportunities for cross-promotion?

My theory is that Nintendo wants Mario to be its ace in the hole for something bigger…and that something could be coming sooner than you might think:

  • Nintendo console generations tend to last about 5-6 years, and the Switch just had its sixth birthday earlier this month. There’s been a lot of talk about how the Switch’s lifespan might extend beyond that, but sales have slowed down considerably over the past year, and sales forecasts have been lowered even as supply chain issues have eased. Even if the end of the Switch’s lifespan isn’t imminent, you better believe Nintendo is thinking about it.
  • Having a strong launch lineup is key to a successful console introduction, and Mario is a proven console-mover: Super Mario Bros. helped kick-start the NES, Super Mario World supercharged the SNES launch, Super Mario 64 helped move N64s, and so on. Other franchises have had similar results (most recently, The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild got the Switch off on the right foot), but with Tears Of The Kingdom about to launch, it will likely be too soon for another Zelda game to launch the Switch’s successor, and there isn’t another great option in Nintendo’s stable (Metroid? Kirby? Star Fox?) Super Smash Bros. might be an option, but with Masahiro Sakurai taking some time to become the next Markiplier, I don’t see a new iteration of that game coming anytime soon. Pokémon is certainly a proven hardware-mover, but that game releases on Game Freak’s schedule and might not line up with a new console. Mario, however, is a franchise that Nintendo can do whatever it wants with, and 2D Mario, 3D Mario, and Mario Kart are all due for a new entry in their respective series.

I think the current absence of Mario indicates the current presence of a new post-Switch console (it may not actually be built yet, but it’s at least in the design phase), and Nintendo is holding back Mario to make sure that whatever its next console looks like, people will buy it because people want to play Mario games. The Switch is already one of the most-successful consoles of all time, and doesn’t need a new Mario game to get people to buy it. In fact, I’d argue that the reverse is true: Releasing a game onto the Switch will help it sell, so now is the time to bring Nintendo’s lesser-known franchises to the console to introduce them to a wider audience. (The Advance Wars reboot is a good example of this: How many people even knew those games existed before the Switch versions were announced?)

Now, let’s consider the reason that this might not be the case—specifically, the presence of “second” franchise games like Tears Of The Kingdom on Switch. Wouldn’t it make sense to hold this game back as well and let Breath of the Wild stand alone on the Switch? Yes, but keep in mind that the game was announced all the way back in 2019, so it was likely supposed to arrive a lot earlier in the Switch’s lifecycle. Splatoon 3 is another outlier (why release this game when Splatoon 2 was already here?), but I wonder if Nintendo was feeling pressure from the faster release pace of the genre (remember, Call of Duty comes out every freaking year) to bring out something new to keep up with its competition. (Kirby‘s got a few games here as well, but in general that series seems to have a much faster release cycle than its peers.) I don’t expect many more repeat titles from other series on this console, and believe that the focus will be on getting as many franchises as possible to ride the Switch’s coattails.

Bottom line: I think the end of the Nintendo Switch’s lifespan is coming sooner than you might think, and when it does, Nintendo will be ready to deploy its new movie star to ensure that the Switch successor keeps on printing money. While this means that we’ll be stuck waiting for a while for Mario’s next interactive adventure, history suggests that even if the drought stretches for another year or so, the game will be worth the wait. Yes, this still feels like a missed opportunity, but Mario’s brand is a powerful one, and when he finally gets back to chasing after Bowser, you can bet that most of us will be coming along for the ride.

When Should You Buy “The Next Game” In A Series?

Nothing lasts forever, and video games are no exception. Consoles change, tastes change, and technology enables developers to do new and different things with their games. As a series grows in popularity, its fans demand more from its creators, calling for an experience that is similar enough to the last one to feel familiar, but different enough to justify buying a game that’s essentially what they’ve already been playing.

The Mario series had been a great example of how to iterate on a franchise. The basics of platforming are roughly the same in both Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Odyssey, but each game in the sequence had a few extra wrinkles tossed in to freshen the experience: Super Mario Bros. 2 had different characters with different controls, Super Mario Bros. 3 adding flight and item-carrying, Super Mario World added Yoshi and infinite flight with a cape, Super Mario 64 added a new dimensions and broadened Mario’s moveset considerably, and so on. Even when the gameplay wasn’t all that different (think the New Super Mario Bros. series), at least players had a slightly-different world to explore each time. For single-player campaigns that had a natural endpoint (and several years between games), this sort of repetition was expected, and even welcomed.

Lately, however, it seems that the biggest games are relying on tighter, more repetitive gameplay loops, substituting online play in place of larger worlds and varied game modes, and the difference between sequential releases is growing smaller, causing games to feel a bit too similar to their predecessors. This might not be so much of a problem if enough time passes between titles, but if games start getting released every year, the player might start wondering if paying full price every year for roughly the same game is worth it. This isn’t a new problem, particularly with sports games like Madden and FIFA that drop a new game every year and take the same flak (sometimes warranted, sometimes not) that it’s nothing but a roster update for the previous game. However, it’s an issue that’s spread to other multiplayer-focused games as well, most notably Call of Duty (which has released at least one game a year since 2005).

Of course, I don’t play Call of Duty, so what am I doing bringing this up? Well, it’s a topic that’s come up in the games I’ve been playing the most these days:

  • MLB The Show 22 was my game of the year in 2022, but MLB The Show 23 is almost upon us, which means that it’s almost time to answer the ‘to update or not to update?’ question. Is 23 worth it when I’ve already got 22?
  • Despite releasing five years after Splatoon 2, Splatoon 3 has gotten a lot of criticism that can be summed up in one phrase: “Splatoon 2.5.” At its core, Splatoon 3 is very similar to its predecessor, and while there have been some useful quality-of-life changes brought to the game, there were also no major additions that changed up the gameplay formula (to say nothing of all the technical and balancing issues it’s had since release). I’ve already made the investment in Splatoon 3, but if someone is still on the fence about it, would I recommend it in its current state?

To answer these questions, we need to figure out what these games need to do to hit that different/same sweet spot that I mentioned earlier. Some key markers that I’m looking for:

  • At least one substantial new mode, or at least some significant positive changes to old modes.
  • A maintaining of quality standards from the old game to the new one.
  • A noticeable technical upgrade between versions, whether it be in the graphics, controls, or in its general performance.

So where do these games stand?

  • As a sports game, MLB The Show 23 is in a tricky spot—after all, there are only so many ways to play baseball, right? The game looks about the same between 22 and 23, and most of the modes return without too many changes (ranked co-op is new, but I wouldn’t consider it a game-changer). The variety of Diamond Dynasty legends is one of the big draws of the mode, but the new legends introduced this year have been mostly underwhelming (Derek Jeter, Mike Lowell, Ian Kinsler, etc.). The introduction of Seasons to Diamond Dynasty feels a bit artificially restrictive, and while the Captain card features are hoping to incentivize the use of Live Series cards, I think they’re still going to get crowded out by the Legend cards that fit the captain’s criteria. There is one feature, however, that I think will move the needle: The Storylines mode that tells the story of the Negro Leagues, and brings stars like Satchel Paige, Buck O’Neil, and Rube Foster into Diamond Dynasty. The omission of these leagues and these players felt like a huge blind spot in MLB The Show 22, and with the promise of more additions to come later (as a catcher with Ruthian levels of power, you know Josh Gibson will be added eventually, and you know he will be in every lineup online), this mode should both shake up the game and shine a long-overdue spotlight on some of the game’s greatest players. Storylines is a really cool feature, but is it enough to buy a game after investing so much time and energy building up a dream team in the previous iteration?
  • Honestly, I think Splatoon 3‘s case is actually weaker than MLB The Show 23. The focus thus far has been on tightening up existing modes from Splatoon 2 (Squid Rolls and Squid Surges in ink battles, egg throwing in Salmon Run, etc.), but the most part it feels like the discussion has been about what isn’t in Splatoon 3: Missing weapons kits, missing maps, etc. Tableturf battles were the big new addition to the game, but six months into its lifespan, the game mode feels extremely limited: You slowly grind your way through unlocking a list of characters from the game (and despite the different cards and maps, the difference between individual matches feels negligible), and online battles are still limited to groups of friends (seriously, how hard could it be to implement random online matches when it’s already a part of ink battles?). On top of this, the game still feels very much like a work in progress: Some of the new Fresh season additions are interesting, but the continuing network issues, frame drops, and long list of weapon and map bugs really break the immersion of the game and make it feel a lot less fun.

Right now, I’m feeling slightly negative on both games. Historically I tend to wait several years between sports titles, and right now I’m leaning in that direction for MLB The Show 23, especially with how much I’ve enjoyed the single-player modes within the game. As for Splatoon 3, I would caution prospective players to give the game another 3-6 months before jumping in: I think the developers are trying to get things in working order and might eventually get there, but it’s not there just yet. (Also, unlike a yearly game like MLB The Show, I think the opportunity cost of not playing Splatoon 3 for a few more months is a lot lower.)

So when should you dive in on a game when you’re still enjoying the previous one? It’s an easy call if the old game has run its course in your mind, but if it hasn’t, you need to look at what the new games brings to the table to see if it can top its previous version or not. If you believe you can have the same amount of the fun with the title you’ve already paid for, you can probably stick with it and save yourself some money. If there’s one thing I’ve discovered while covering the music business, it’s that “newer” doesn’t always mean “better.”

Sea Of Stars: Early Impressions

If we’re getting back to my roots in music this year, we might as well do it with gaming too.

While many of my gaming rants lately center around Splatoon, historically I haven’t really been a shooter player. Instead, my background mainly lies in platformers, sports titles, and especially role-playing games, and especially especially the old-school turn-based RPGs that headlined the genre in the 1990s (Final Fantsay VII, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, and yes, even Pokémon). I haven’t played a ton on these kinds of games on the Switch thus far (basically it’s Octopath Traveler, Pokémon, and whatever Paper Mario: The Origami King counts as), and while my foray into tactical RPGs like Triangle Strategy has been a blast, I’ve been itching to return to my classic RPG roots for some time.

In the short term, Octopath Traveler II will fill this void when I finally get a copy of it, but a more-intriguing title recently appeared on my radar courtesy of Nintendo’s recent Direct: Sea Of Stars, a game that’s pretty heavily inspired by some of the great Super Nintendo RPGs of the past. A demo of the game dropped with the presentation, and after finally getting a chance to play through it, I can see where the buzz behind this game is coming from. It does a nice job being faithful to its inspiration while also putting its own twist on the genre, and I found it to be a pretty enjoyable experience.

My specific thoughts on the demo are as follows:

  • The graphics have the same pixelated look and feel of a game like Chrono Trigger, but it’s Sea Of Stars‘s movement options in the game that makes the maps so interesting. Your characters can climb small ledges, leap small gaps, drop off edges of nearly any height, and even swim through larger bodies of water. Not only do these tricks open up the map and let you explore even more, but it gave the map designers more freedom to be creative: Floating disconnected platforms, rough areas with lots of verticality, seaside towns with both rooftop and ocean secrets, etc. I really liked how limitless the maps felt, but it’s going to be a tall task to maintain this throughout the entire game: More places to explore means hiding more goodies for the player to find, or else they’ll start thinking it’s not worth the effort.
  • In general, I like the character design I’ve seen so far, especially in the NPCs (the pirate crew has some serious joie de vivre), but I do worry about the main characters thus far. Garl is an happy-go-lucky guy with a bubbly personality and a passion for food, but Zale and Valere are interchangeable as main characters, so they both suffer a bit from “the Mario effect”: They’re upstanding citizens, but don’t have a ton of quirks or passions (at least not in the demo) that would make them stand out or overly memorable. (Then again, Mario is still one of the most-recognizable characters in the world, so maybe this isn’t much of an issue.) I’m hoping to see a bit more character development from the protagonists in the full game.
  • The initial combat presentation here is ripped straight from Chrono Trigger: Encounters are on-screen rather than random, and the fight takes place directly on the map instead of a special battle screen. Once the fight begins, however, it transforms into something straight out of the Mario RPG series: There’s no overt time component to the fighting (you can take your time to select an attack), timed hits increase damage for attacks, timed blocks reduce damage on defense, and special attacks generally require some form of interaction (“Hold A for power!”). It’s the most active an RPG has been since the Mario & Luigi series fell by the wayside, with Valere’s Moonerang being the clear standout (there’s a good chance that if you keep getting the timing right, the attack could be “infinite” much like Mario’s Ultra Jump in Super Mario RPG). Chrono Trigger appears again in the form of combo attacks, where multiple characters can attack together if the “combo meter” has accumulated enough charge. There’s even a nod to Octopath Traveler‘s Break mechanic: For certain enemy attacks, a series of icons will appear above them, and you can weaken or cancel these attacks by hitting the enemy with actions that match the icons. Finally, there are some twists I haven’t seen in a game like this before: If two characters are ready to attack (I’m not 100% sure how this is determined), you can choose which one will take the current turn in order to optimize your battle strategy, and regular attacks may scatter “Live Mana” on the battlefield, which your characters can absorb to power up their actions. There’s a lot to mess around with here, and plenty of options for leading your team to victory.
  • I watched Ryukahr’s video on the demo and was a little concerned with the potential difficulty of the game (in particular the demo boss gave him a lot of trouble), but when I played through it myself it wasn’t too bad (though definitely on the harder side of RPGs I’ve played). It really depends on your defensive game: If you’re absorbing full-power hits, even the dungeon battles will add up over time, but if you’re blocking like Trent Williams, you can take a lot of shots and just keep rolling. Still, you’ll want to keep a decent cache of healing items with you, and make use of the “Camp” feature to keep your HP up. (MP will recharge a little during basic attacks, so keeping that up isn’t as difficult.) Zale and Garl also have healing spells you can use in a pinch, and at least in the demo KO’d allies bounced back up after a turn or two (probably because revive items weren’t available). There are some items that will increase or decrease the difficulty as well, so if you’d rather focus on the story, you’ve still got that option.
  • Speaking of story…there really wasn’t much revealed about it in the demo. Your party is traveling somewhere and needs to hitch a ride with some pirates to get there, but they ask you to retrieve a special item from a dungeon in return…and that’s all you get to see. There were some hints of a deeper story in the recent trailers, but we’ll have to wait and see what we get.
  • There was, however, an interesting fishing minigame that was pretty interesting: You had to reel in fish only when they were in a certain/moving corridor of light, and your line would break if you tried to reel them in outside of it. There was more depth to the contest than I expected, and given that you could obtain material that you could craft into healing items, I think players will enjoy getting sidetracked.
  • The game makes a big deal out of the music (there’s a guest composer from some classic series like Chrono Trigger), but at least in the demo, none of the tracks really stuck with me. We’ll see how this changes with more time.

Overall, I was pretty impressed with Sea of Stars, and I can’t wait to see more of the game when it releases in late August. I think it’s got potential to stand with the greats of the genre, and if you’re looking for a title to scratch that nostalgic itch, this might be the game for you.

If nothing else, “Sea Of Stars” is already a better hook for a song than “Stars Like Confetti”

What Happened To Brellas In Splatoon 3?

Fridays are usually my day for retro song reviews, but the recent reveal of the Fresh Season bugged me enough that I had to talk about it.

In typical Nintendo fashion, the company decided not to mention anything about the latest season of Splatoon 3 in their recent Direct, and instead resorted to drip-feeding us all information via their Twitter feed instead. The new season appears to be leaning heavily in a retro direction, with two new old specials (the Kraken Royale’s lineage is obvious, and the Super Chump just looks like a reworked Suction Bomb Rush to me), a collection of returning/remixed weapons (no new types like the Big Swing Roller or Splattershot Nova last time), and the return of the Manta Maria map from Splatoon 2. (Given the presence of the jukebox on the promotional image, you’ll likely be able to pick from a selection of old and new songs to play in the lobby.)

There’s a fair bit of content here, and is should shake up the current meta at least a little bit (especially the new specials). However, there’s a fair bit that isn’t here as well, particularly in the area of weapon classes. Duelies, Brushes and Splatlings are shut out this time around after getting at least a little something last season, and the Splatana and Stringer classes haven’t seen anything new since they were introduced. Still, at least these classes were in a (mostly) workable state when the game started (even if brushes were broken later).

And then *sigh* we have the Brella class.

In all honesty, I haven’t been on the receiving end of all the Brella glitches that have plagued the weapons class, and while there are lots of reports of Brella players getting shot through their shields due to network latency, as an Undercover Brella player I never see this because its shield opens so fast that the window to hit someone is incredibly small. (On the other hand, Tenta Brella players, who could drink an entire cup of coffee while waiting for their shield to open, are victimized by this glitch more often.) Nevertheless, this weapon class has been a buggy mess since the game released, and it feels like it has been abandoned not only by the Splatoon player base, but by the developers as well. As someone who really enjoys using Brellas, it’s an incredibly frustrating feeling.

So what went wrong? I think there are three factors at play:

  • Splatoon’s netcode wasn’t quite ready for prime time, and Brellas serve as the canary in the coal mine. I made this point back when I was discussing problems with Splatoon 3 in general, but I think network problems hit Brellas especially hard because they carry their cover with them, and thus have the expectation that they’re going to be protected. For a weapon like the Splattershot, a charger might shoot you through a wall now and again, but in general you’re going to be out in the open and unprotected, and if an opponent’s got their crosshairs on you, you’re probably toast. If the final shot is a few frames too fast or too slow in reaching you, it’s not that noticeable—it’s only going to register as suspicious in the player’s mind if it’s egregiously out of sync (for example, if the opponent doesn’t appear to be firing in your direction, or the fight has long since ended). Brellas, however, go into battle with the assumption that if their shield is up, they are protected, which means that even small discrepancies are going to be more noticeable because the shield appears to be deployed. The networking setup for Splatoon 3 has been a noticeable downgrade from Splatoon 2 thus far, and a shielding class like Brellas is going to be the first to notice any problems.
  • Having so many Brella bugs early was not a good look for the game. Network issues may have been a problem, but you can’t blame all of the weird Brella glitches on the Internet. As a weapon class in Splatoon 2, Brellas may not have always been meta, but they were dependable weapons that generally functioned the way people expected them to. To have them go from generally reliable in S2 to completely unreliable in S3 was pretty jarring, and it raised a lot of uncomfortable questions:
    • How on earth could a weapon decay this badly between games? What could the developers have possibly done between S2 and S3 to break these things?
    • How could this class have been released in such a miserable state? Didn’t they bother to test any of this stuff before it went live?
    • If the launch was botched this badly, is Nintendo going to be able to fix it? Do they even know how, and if they do, are they even capable of doing it?
  • Splatoon’s slower update schedule is causing a disconnect between the developers and the audience. A quote I often cite (despite not being able to find an actual citation for it) goes something like this: “People tend to assume the worst if you don’t tell them you really care.” In Splatoon 2 (and also Splatoon), the constant drip of new content and relative frequency of patches made it feel like the development team was more engaged and responsive, and that any problems that arose would be quickly addressed and taken care of. There was also little advance warning as to what was coming, which gave players a sense that anything was possible: If your preferred weapon didn’t appear this week, maybe it might show up next week! In Splatoon 3, however, Nintendo publicly committed to a slower, more deliberate schedule for post-release content, organizing drops into three-month “seasons” and laying all their cards (catalogs?) on the table in advance. Whether or not this change was for the better or not can be debated until the squids come home, but the move had two major side-effects
    • It weakened the connection between the developers and the community, and made it seem like Nintendo was less interested or invested in the game, even if the update schedule thus far hasn’t been that far off of the schedule for the first two games.
    • It meant that if a weapon class was left out of a seasonal update, it would be three months before they got another chance to get into the action. If you miss two updates like the Brellas now have…well, you start to assume the worst.

So imagine that you’re a Brella player. Your beloved weapon arrives in Splatoon 3 as a glitchy mess. You’ve seen a bunch of bugfixes for your weapon, which is simultaneously uplifting and disheartening (it’s great to see the problems getting fixed, but why were there so many problems in the first place if the weapon was fully functional in Splatoon 2?). You’ve borne the brunt of Splatoon 3‘s network issues, and given the company’s poor track record with online play and mediocre efforts to address the problem so far, you don’t have much hope that things will get better. You haven’t gotten anything from the game’s balance changes or content updates yet, and unlike Splatanas and Stringers you’re not one of the shiny new weapons classes that have been at the forefront of the game’s marketing campaign. You’re stuck waiting until June for any alternate kits to shake up the game, and if nothing shows up then, your next chance will be in September. You appreciate all the love and focus being given to Splatoon, but given that your weapon didn’t show up until Splatoon 2, all that love and focus isn’t going to help you either.

Given all this, you could forgive a Brella player for wondering if they’ve been forgotten.

Now, my caveat to all this is that personally, I still find what we’ve got now to be viable in online matches. Granted, I mostly use the Undercover Brella and I’m not involved in any high-tier competitive play, but for the basic modes that I’ve been playing for years, these weapons work about as well as they always have. (I also think the maps, whose design has been rightly panned since the game debuted, actually work in a Brella’s favor: If the maps are chokepoint-filled hallways, that’s a plus for a Brella that can fill that space and wall off opponents.) I’d still like a bit more sub/special variety within the weapon class itself (I’m an experimenter at heart, i.e. the guy who puts Luke Maile in right field just to see what happens), but if this is all we get, I figure I can find a way to make it work. I’ll still be disappointed, however, because the Brella’s combination of offense and defense enables playstyles that no other weapon can match, and to see it seemingly get shoved into a corner and neglected just breaks my heart.

So what can be done to fix this problem? “Fix the Brellas” is the obvious answer, but I think the first step is communication: Tell us why Brellas appear to be on the back burner. I’ve discussed the difficulty of balancing a weapon like this in the past, but it would be nice to hear this directly from the Splatoon team. We need some way of the folks behind the game to the story behind the game: Why were Brella in such rough shape at the start of the game? What difficulties has the team run into while fixing them? Why are the maps shaped like Tetris pieces? Where do certain weapon buffs and nerfs originate from (seriously, that random .52 Gal special point drop still feels awfully sus to me)? Starting that sort of dialogue, even if it’s over a curated one-way channel, would go a long way towards helping players understand the state of the game, and while not everyone would agree with the provided rationale, at least we’d know where the developers were coming from.

In the end, everyone wants the same thing: A fun, reliable game that delivers years of enjoyment for players and prints money for Nintendo. Giving each weapon class an equal amount of attention and care would go a long way in a game that’s showing serious signs of “shooter privilege,” and if that isn’t possible, at least the community should know why that was the case. Otherwise, we’re left with nothing but speculation and suspicion to fill the void, and that never turns out well.

So what happened to Brellas? A series of unfortunate technical issues, policy choices, and unexplained decisions left players in the dark and Brellas out in the cold. Nintendo can’t fix all of this in a day, but they could at least let us know that they’re trying, and I’d settle for that for now. That, and a new .96 Gal kit. (I wasn’t that much of a Kraken user back in the day, but I’m willing to give it a shot!)

My Reaction To The February 2023 Nintendo Direct

Well, this was a thing, I guess.

I know people start predicting the next Nintendo Direct the moment the previous Direct finishes, but this just felt like the right time for the company to lay out its plans for 2023, and as we expected, Nintendo dropped a hefty Direct on us this evening, ostensibly focusing on the first half of 2023 (but they’ve said that before, the truth is that anything is possible). I laid out my predictions a week ago, but how many would come true, and how many unexpected surprises would the Big N hit us with?

In the end, the biggest surprise here was how few surprises we actually got.

While the presentation had its moments, I don’t think this was one of Nintendo’s better Directs. I’ve been harping about execution in song reviews lately, but the execution here felt pretty poor, with some bizarre unforced errors that really dragged down the presentation. I walked away feeling pretty ambivalent about the whole thing, and generating such a muted reaction is the worst possible outcome for a company who wants to keep people talking.

My specific thoughts on the Direct are as follows:

  • I’m not interested in the Pikmin series at all, but I think the Pikmin 4 trailer did a decent job opening the Direct and showcasing some of the game’s mechanics. I would have liked to see more about what individual Pikmin do (people who aren’t familiar with the series will have no idea what different colored Pikmin mean), but the ice Pikmon got some decent screen time, and we got a long look at the new dog companion that will accompany you on your journey. (I was also kind of surprised that we weren’t playing as Olimar, and that there were more humanoid characters around. Zelda‘s blood moon also seems to be a part of the game…) It didn’t entice me to buy the game, but it did a good job showing us what was new and what the game was all about.
  • I’m not a Xenoblade Chronicles fan either, but holy cow is XC3 huge! With a new character, more challenge battles, and an intriguing story teaser for the next wave, there is a lot to do in this game, and while I’m still not interested in real-time RPG combat, I think Xenoblade fans are doing very well in the Switch era.
  • Deca Police was the first hint that there were going to be issues with the presentation. In the wake of the killing of Tyre Nichols, showing off a game where the police fight the criminals and declare “we must use whatever means necessary” felt more than a little tone-deaf on the part of Level-5 and Nintendo. The gameplay looked okay (but also looked like more real-time combat, no thank you), but this just didn’t feel the right time or place to announce this one.
  • Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon looks like an interesting game with some intriguing mechanics (Cereza is a pure support character who can only freeze enemies in place), and traversing the world looks like it could be fun, but it didn’t quite reach the point where I might consider trying it out. Bayonetta fans will likely enjoy it, but I’ll pass.
  • Good grief, that might have been the worst Splatoon trailer I have ever seen. We got no information about additions for the coming season (no weapons, no modes, nothing), Inkopolis Plaza is just a retro re-skin of the current plaza with no additional…well, anything to justify its existence, and the Side Order teaser didn’t give us a good-enough look at the mode to know exactly what was coming. I can’t believe Nintendo wants to make people pay for this DLC, and unless Side Order is actually the next Octo Expansion, I don’t think I will.
  • I never thought I’d say this, but…Disney’s Illusion Island looks like a pretty solid platformer to me. The characters seem to have a large and varied moveset, the 2D environments look like they’d be fun to bounce around in, the boss battle looked interesting, and I even like how characters have their own personalized spin on different moves. I’m actually getting some Celeste vibes from this thing, and while I don’t think it would be as hard as climbing Mt. Celeste, I’ll bet this could be a really fun game, especially with its co-op capabilities. This one might be worth investigating further.
  • I kind of missed Fire Emblem Engage when it came out, but it looks like this game is getting some warranted attention (even it feels a bit too much like a fan service game with all these returning characters). More emblems mean more intriguing battle strategies, and the game still has a solid tactical RPG foundation at its core. I’m not quite ready to dive into this one, but I might revisit it later this year.
  • We got about what I expected for Octopath Traveler II, and honestly I don’t think it moved the needle either way for anyone. Kirby’s Return To Dream Land Deluxe didn’t get much mention at all (I suppose it’s understandable; it’s a port that in theory we should know all about already), but the new Magalor-centered epilogue at least seemed kind of interesting. I’ll probably get OT2, but I’m still waffling on Kirby. Finally, Sea Of Stars looked like something I might explore later this year: I like the art style and the combat setup, and I’m a sucker for a good RPG.
  • Good grief, that might be the worst Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp trailer I’ve ever seen. I know they had revealed most of the game before it was delayed, but to just TL;DR the whole thing over a cinematic trailer with no gameplay really minimized the game’s strength. Nintendo also made the tone-deaf decision to drop the game in mid/late April, which will be right about when the war in Ukraine ramps back up and the world is reminded why the game was delayed in the first place. I’m sure this one will be fun to play, but Nintendo is doing its level best to set it up for failure.
  • After years of rumors, Game Boy games are finally coming to Nintendo Switch Online! …And just like the other consoles, we’re starting with a paltry lineup that includes very few games I actually want to play. There are just nine game here to start, and there are some glaring omissions here (how can we get Super Mario Land 2 and not get the original Super Mario Land?). I counted maybe three games that I might check out at some point, and none of the advertised upcoming releases interested me at all. (Game Boy Advance games are coming too, but I don’t have much of a history with the GBA and they’re locked behind the NSO expansion pack that I refuse to buy, so they’re a no-op for me.)
  • Metroid Prime 4 got no mention here (not a big surprise), but the first Metroid Prime is coming to Switch as a remaster, and while I only played the original game once, I’m impressed by how much the visuals are improved here. It’s not something I’m interested in, but at least Metroid fans get something to tide them over while MP4 continues to flounder in obscurity.
  • As much hype as been generated by the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe booster pass, it hasn’t done a great job of re-engaging fans in the series: You play the new courses a few times, you set the controller down, and you wait a few more months for the next wave. Nintendo seems to have sensed this, because they’re going bigger than expected for Wave 4: We didn’t get the full list of tracks this time, but in a surprise twist we got a completely new course (Yoshi’s Island) and a new old character in Birdo (which is significant because Nintendo never said anything about adding more characters to the game). It looks like the course is going to make good use of the MK8D mechanics, indicating that the trend of improving the course offerings with each wave will continue. (It makes you wonder if lackluster reactions of sales from the first wave or two have spurred Nintendo to get their act together and finally bring their A-game to the table.) I don’t know if this will be the jump-start for the game that Nintendo was hoping for, but you can’t fault them for trying.
  • I did not think in a million years that the Power Pros series would ever return to North America. I had so much fun with MLB Power Pros on the Wii back in the day, and I love the look of the new characters that have been added since then. Not only am I probably going to buy this game (wait, it’s only $1 on the eShop?!), at first glance this could a dark horse candidate for my Game Of The Year.
  • Saving The Legend of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom for the end was a bad idea: Like Rickey Henderson on first base, everybody knew what was coming next, and it took a lot of the surprise and anticipation out of the moment. Still, this was a decent trailer much like Pikmin 4: We got to see the world and the enemies therein, got some hints at the story, and got to see a few of Link’s new tricks (and some new mechanical contraptions as well). It could have been better, but it probably would have had to be longer too, so with the time it had, it was fine.
  • The surprise no-show here was Mario: Despite the movie coming out soon, there was no mention of any new mainline games to capitalize on the publicity. Mario Baseball didn’t show up either, which was a bit of a surprise given that a March release to coincide with the MLB season would have been the best move for the franchise. Finally, my off-the-wall prediction of ARMS 2 didn’t materialize, which probably means that the franchise is pretty much history.

Overall, this was a mixed bag in the gaming department, and seemed to be weighed down by some questionable decision-making on the part of some games. I think I saw 3 games that I really wanted (and a few more that were borderline), and given the broad audience Nintendo is trying to placate with all this stuff, I suppose I’ll have to take what I can get. Still, some better execution would go a long way towards improving the presentation, and I hope Nintendo does a better job showing off their stuff next time around.

My Predictions For The Next Nintendo Direct

Let the unfounded speculation begin!

It’s that time of year folks: The time when folks get antsy about what Nintendo has up it sleeves for the year, and wild leaks and rumors start popping up on every message board and social media site on the World Wide Web. What could the Big N have percolating in its lair, and when will they spill the beans? Early-year Nintendo Direct presentations tend to be a big deal, and with relatively little information about Nintendo’s first-party plans for the year, it’s about time to lay some cards on the table and give us a hint of what’s in store.

So what could be coming in this not-yet-announced-but-absolutely-expected Direct presentation? Here are my thoughts/predictions for what we might see when the curtain rises. (PLEASE NOTE: Much of this is completely unfounded conjecture, so take it with a grain of salt.):

  • Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe: This one drops in less than a month now, so whether or not it appears in a Direct depends on when the presentation actually happens. We already know quite a bit about this game from previous presentations (and as a remake it isn’t exactly a tentpole release for the franchise), so while we might get a few tidbits about new modes (rumor has it the game’s getting a new epilogue, which seems reasonable), anything we see is just going to be a reminder that it will exist and that you should go out and buy it (we’ll see about that; Kirby’s track record has been spotty lately…)
  • Octopath Traveler II: This one’s in the same category as Kirby: It’s coming soon and we already know a fair bit about it, so we’ll just get something short this time around as one last attempt to get people to pick up the game.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom: This one’s sitting on a May release date right now, and is currently the biggest thing on Nintendo to-do list. We’ll hear something about this game (even if it’s another delay apology), but given how much it’s been delayed thus far and how (relatively) close the current release date is, I think we’ll get a decent feature on it in the next presentation, showing off more of the story and the interplay between the ground and the sky islands. Given that Nintendo’s website has added some metadata that indicates a pre-release announcement is coming, I’d expect the game to be available for ordering the moment this hypothetical Direct drops.
  • Advance Wars 1+2: Reboot Camp: This game was delayed a year ago in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and with the game getting the same metadata update that LoZ: Tears Of The Kingdom did, I get the sense that Nintendo is tired of waiting for the war to end and is looking to sneak the game out soon before the projected spring offensives put the conflict front and center on the world’s screens again. The game was basically done before the delay, so while things could re-escalate in Eastern Europe at any moment, Advance Wars could be dropped the moment the Direct airs as well.
  • Pikmin 4: We only get a few seconds of serene scenes earlier, so I expect to get a full-fledged trailer in the next Nintendo presentation. I expect some gameplay mechanics, a story primer, and perhaps an introduction to any new Pikmin types.
  • Splatoon 3: A new season will be starting in another month, so we’ll get a brief trailer showing off some of the new gear and weapons that will be replaced. Adding online functionality to Tableturf Battles is a must, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see League Battles return as well. (I feel like the meta hasn’t actually moved since the last patch, so while it won’t be talked about here, the Splash-o-matic is probably looking at an actual nerf next time.)
  • Mario: It’s been over five years now since Super Mario Odyssey awed players with its environments and gameplay, and ever since Nintendo left Super Mario Maker 2 to die in early 2020, there hasn’t been a lot of noise from the franchise aside from some disappointing spinoff titles. Rumors, however, suggest that this is changing, and I believe it: Not only do I think we’re getting a new mainline Mario game in 2023 (either in 2D or 3D), but I think it gets announced in this next Direct to maximize its synergy with the upcoming Mario Bros. movie. It’s kind of hard to believe we’ve gone this long without a new Mario game (…okay, maybe not that surprising: The Switch looks like it’s going to have an extended life and 2022 was absolutely stacked with other titles), but I think our wait ends this year.
  • Mario Baseball: I’ve been thinking that this one is incoming for a while now, and the rumor mill is catching up. Baseball is pretty much the last core Mario Sports franchise that hasn’t found its way to the Switch (although the franchise has been dormant since 2008), and I even mentioned recently that “an MLB crossover headlined by Shohei Ohtani would absolutely print money.” It would be a fairly straightforward midyear title to help round out the summer push, and bringing this franchise to the most-popular Nintendo console since the Wii (i.e., the last console it appeared on) makes a lot of sense. If I’m honest, I’m not sure I actually want this game: I loved Mario Superstar Baseball back in the day, and given how games like Mario Golf: Super Rush turned out, I don’t want Nintendo messing with this series unless they’re willing to put some actual effort into it.
  • MLB The Show 23: We just got the cover athlete reveal for the next installment in the franchise, and with the game’s projected release date approaching fast (and the game once again coming to Switch), we’ll get something to announce its arrival somewhere in this presentation.
  • Metroid Prime: Let’s face it: Metroid Prime 4 is never coming at this point, given that the game has already gone through a complete reboot and there’s been radio silence from the Big N on it for over a year now. A remake of the first three Metroid Prime games, on the other hand? That I could definitely see coming, especially since Nintendo will probably want something to keep players from grousing about Prime 4 too much (hey, it worked for Metroid Dread). However, I’m just not sure I see something getting announced in the company’s first Direct of the year—this feels to me like a summer announcement for a holiday season drop.
  • ARMS 2: I don’t even have a rumor to point to for this one, but come on, they had to have put Min Min into Super Smash Bros. for something, right? Nobody can say what the control scheme of the Switch’s successor will look like, so if a sequel’s coming, I think it has to be on this console, and probably sooner rather than later. I think a reveal now and a midsummer release would give ARMS the room to shine that it never got in 2017, so I’m going out on a limb and saying an ARMS sequel will be the big surprise of this presentation.

That’s a lot of conjecturing, and a Direct hasn’t even been announced! But what do you think is coming in Nintendo’s next big presentation? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

What Needs To Be Added For MLB The Show 23?

Where the heck was THIS guy this year? (Image from Operation Sports)

It’s hard to fathom when you’re stuck in the middle of a blizzard (I have to make this quick before I lose power again), but pitchers and catchers are only about a month away from reporting to spring training, which means it’s just about time for another iteration of MLB The Show to hit store shelves. MLB The Show 22 was a revelation when it hit the Switch this year, and there was a lot to like about it, so much so that it defied the odds and beat out Splatoon 3 as my Game Of The Year. Still, there are always ways to improve your product every year, and there are a couple of things I’d like to see San Diego Studio do to improve The Show going forward.

  • Make Diamond Dynasty modes and players available offline. This is a big one, and apparently it’s been on fan wishlists for some time now, but it’s vitally important now that the game has been ported to the Switch. As a console whose mobility is one of its biggest selling points (and with cross-save capability letting you take data from any console anywhere), you can’t expect players to have a constant network connection to your servers all the time. Sure, you can’t play ranked games without the Internet, but there are a surprising number of single-player modes (Mini Seasons, Conquests, Showdowns, even full matches against the CPU) that have no need for the information superhighway and would get along just fine without it. (There’s also the issue of losing everything you’ve earned the day they decide to turn the servers off, but that’s a problem for a lot of games these days.)

In addition to modes, I’d love to have access to the great players of the past and present in non-Diamond Dynasty modes. The biggest example of this is practice mode: If you struggle against the meta pitchers of the moment (Randy Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, etc.), it would be really nice to pull those players into practice mode and spend some time learning their arsenal, timing their pitches, and generally figuring out how to crush them.

I’m sure there are technical and/or competitive reasons for why Diamond Dynasty is set up the way it is (storage space requirements, trying to prevent players from modifying their save files, etc.), but there have to be ways to address these issues and let players take their cards on the go. The game is mobile now, and its data deserves to be too.

  • Get more past greats of the game into the game. Maybe we don’t need every player who ever set foot on the diamond (but I wouldn’t object either; 99-rated Brandon Fahey for the win!), but there are some glaring holes in the game’s lineup that really need to be filled. Where’s Joe DiMaggio? Ted Williams? Sandy Koufax? Dizzy Dean? Satchel Paige? Yogi Berra? Frank Robinson? I could go on for days, and so could probably every fan in the country.

What makes these omissions so painful is seeing how often the players that are included get repeated. Remember that Shane Victorino card I wanted so badly earlier in the year? They ended up releasing three different versions of him, each one more powerful than the last because of the game’s power creep issues. Heck, they released two different 99-rated Ken Griffey Jr. cards! I love Griffey as much as the next guy, but did we really need four versions of his card, or four Randy Johnsons? With such a large pool of players to choose from, this much repetition is simply unacceptable.

I understand that including a player means getting the rights to their likeness (and thus more players means more cash spent by Sony)…but I also don’t care. You can’t tell the story of baseball without some of these players, and a game like this just feels incomplete without them.

  • Do more to incentive players to stick with a game, no matter the score. The main problem I find with ranked games online is that once the opposing player gets even a sliver of a doubt that they can win a game, they disconnect and try to find another match. I’ve had opponents rage quit against me when leading, I’ve had them rage quit as early as the second inning, and I’ve had them rage quit over double plays, home runs, and a lack of hits in general. As much as I appreciate the rank boost from the win, it really ruins the online experience for me: You’ll spend 9 innings getting crushed, but you’ll be ghosted the moment you take a 1-0 lead into the fourth.

I like the carrots that the game has in place right now (you can earn some really nice cards just by playing a certain number of innings in a season), but they don’t seem to be doing the trick, so I’m starting to think we need to break out the sticks and drop 4-hour (or 8-hour, or 24-hour) bans on players who don’t complete a game, so that they can’t get right back into the mode if they leave prematurely.

Having said that, the game’s online matchmaking could really stand some improvements as well: If you’re ranked 100+ points below an opponent, why does the game pair you with them in the first place? I’d be willing to wait a little longer to find a better matchup, especially if the rage quit penalties get ramped up.

Online matches can oscillate between fun and frustrating several times in the same inning, and you’re never truly out of a game until the 27th out is recorded. I just wish the game could cajole folks into having more patience.

I’m actually on the fence about picking up MLB The Show 23: I’m not a super-competitive guy that has to be playing the latest and greatest version (and I’m not really making any content with the game…yet), and The Show 22 has been so good that I could see myself playing it for several more years. Still, I think these changes would make a great franchise even better, and I implore Sony, MLB, and San Diego Studio to make them a reality.

As for Nintendo: When is the Mario Baseball series coming back? An MLB crossover headlined by Shohei Ohtani would absolutely print money…

Does Splatoon 3 Have A Power Creep Problem?

Sure the Crab Tank is good, but even it would it struggle to hit Milestone Kershaw’s slider when his confidence bar is high.

I’ve done a lot of complaining about Splatoon 3, but surprisingly one of things I haven’t complained about is the meta for the game—heck, I gripe far more about the meta of country music than I ever did about Splatoon! Of course, this is because I’m nowhere near as plugged into the ranked/competitive scene as I was in Splatoon 2: I tend to stick to Turf Wars where weapons are a bit more varied and the magical theory that you can make any weapon work still exists. Anarchy and X battles, however, are where the meta really starts to harden, and there’s been one specific shooter that’s been all the rage lately…

Image from The Negus Corner

That’s a lot of Splash-o-matics, and more specifically, that’s a lot of Crab Tanks.

As a special, the crab tank is both durable and powerful: The mech itself will block shots from reaching you (and take a fair bit of damage before breaking), and you instantly get two long-range firing modes that can flash-fry opponents in the open or loop ink blobs up and over walls to hit people behind cover. It’s a potent option that several different weapons have, but the Splash-o-matic has perhaps the perfect kit to complement the move. It can deliver fast, accurate damage with the main weapon, deliver even-faster burst damage with its Burst Bombs, and morph into a long-range threat that can deny an opponent access to an area for a decent period of time.The question wasn’t why you would use the Splash, it was why you would use anything else.

After many months of taking heat from all sides, Nintendo released a new balance patch to address the crab-pocalypse…and while they might have succeeded in a weird backwards way, they may have just given the community some new weapons and especially a new special to despise:

Since the Crab Tank, and specifically the Splash-o-matic with the Crab Tank, were the problems, you would think that they would be the primary items addressed in the patch. (This is especially true for the Splash because it’s officially a repeat offender, going back to its Bomb Rush kit days in Splatoon and Splatoon 2.) Instead, we got this:

So now the crab disappears one second quicker by itself, and with its Special Power Up affect improved, you can still keep the crab as long as you could before with the proper gear. To quote a famous cat, “Big fat hairy deal.”

But what about the Splash-o-matic? Shockingly, it didn’t appear in the patch notes at all. Instead, Nintendo took a “shadow nerf” approach to the Splash and the Crab Tank by powering up some of the options around it. Most notably:

  • The Splat Dualies and Splattershot Pro had the amount of points needed to charge their own Crab Tanks reduced by 10.
  • The Splattershot and Hero Shot had the amount of points needed to charge their Trizooka reduced by 10.
  • The .52 Gal had the amount of points needed to charge their Killer Wail 5.1 reduced by 10.
  • The Triple Inkstrike special got a 50% damage buff, enough to obliterate a Crab Tank, Booyah Bomb, or Big Bubbler with a single shot (as Dude demonstrates in the above video).

It appears that Nintendo doesn’t really want to bring down the Splash-o-matic or Crab Tank (which is weird, because they were totally okay with nerfing the Sloshing Machine into the ground in this patch), and instead wants to power up other weapons and specials in order to convince Splash players to try something different. This also explains why the new weapon types we got at the start of the Chill season (Splattershot Nova, Big Swig Roller) were so weak, and why they got significant buffs in this patch as well (the Big Swig had its damage floor raised, the Nove got a painting upgrade and a reduction in special points): The developers wanted to start small and then turn up the heat until they found the right temperature.

I have two issues with this:

  • People were already starting to grumble about the Tentatek Splattershot when it was released with Triple Inkstrike, and now that it’s got an oppressive Crab counter, we’re just going to see people switch over and run multiple Tentateks instead of (or perhaps alongside!) multiple Splash-o-matics. (This is especially likely given that the Sloshing Machine nerfs have opened up a spot in nearly every competitive team’s weapon comp.)
  • The Splattershot buff feels a bit random and concerning, but that .52 buff really scares me. Many players cite the Kensa .52 Gal as one of the main culprits that “ruined” the Splatoon 2 meta, and the .52 got to that point via a steady stream of seemingly-innocuous buffs that eventually made it too powerful for players to ignore. The .52 kit in Splatoon 3 is still pretty solid, and you never know which minor tweak might push it back to the forefront and send us back to the S2 meta.

My main concern is that through buffs big and small, we end up in a bizarre arms race where weapons and powers just keep getting stronger in order to counteract whatever’s currently dominating the meta. This might not be a huge problem if such a rising tide lifted all boats, but for some reason Splatoon has a tendency to only power up shooters and ignore everything else (a preference so strong that people have labeled it “shooter privilege”). The Sloshing Machine may have gotten flattened by the nerf hammer, but at least it got a brief moment in the sun; other weapon classes (notably Brellas) seem to have been completely ignored by the developers despite being notoriously buggy and often nullified by latency. (Thankfully, Brellas got some specific bug fixes in this patch; maybe now the Splatoon team can figure out what the heck they’re going to do with them).

Power creep in a game is not necessarily a bad thing, but when it’s applied unequally, it can stamp out different ideas and strategies and generally make games more predictable and less fun. It happened with the ‘quad shooter’ meta that Splatoon 2 ended with, it happened with the flood of 99-rated cards in MLB The Show 22 (suddenly any card you got before July suddenly became unusable online, and you had to face Kershaw in every other match), and it appears to be starting to happen in Splatoon 3.

Going with a nerf-first approach isn’t perfect either, but I think I prefer it to a buff-first approach because it brings dominant weapons back to the field instead of trying to push a select few up to (and potentially past) the leader of the pack. Slowing down the Splash-o-matic or the Crab Tank makes everything slightly more viable against it, and while some weapons will be inevitably more viable than others, I think it gives every other weapon a chance to make a counterplay against the current meta and help create a new one.

Don’t get me wrong: Sometimes weapons need to be strengthened a bit as the ground moves underneath them (witness the Dynamo damage buff in this patch, which basically returns its S2 Main Power Up boost after MPU was dumped for S3), and sometimes nerfs can go a bit too far (Kyo’s requiem for the Sloshing Machine was only partially tongue-in-cheek; even a Slosher-hater like me thinks that weapon deserved better). Still, I think the first approach to changing a scene dominated by a certain weapon should be to tone it down and give everything else a chance to catch up.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see how much more OP the Undercover Brella is now that its Reefslider has invincibility frames. They’ll probably have to nerf that weapon next patch, before it destroys the universe at we know it. 🙂

Splatoon 3 Undercover Brella Gear Guide: What Abilities Should You Use?

As an aficionado and successful practitioner of the Undercover Brella, I’ve gotten a few questions about the gear I run while using the weapon. With a kit that’s generally considered the weakest in the game and a playstyle isn’t exactly groundbreaking, people often to the same conclusion as Mars Blackmon when trying to find the secret to my success: It’s gotta be the shoes!

Gear abilities aren’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to Splatoon, but they can make it much easier to use certain weapons and complement different playstyles (Ex. Splatlings tend to run at least 2 main and 3 sub slots full of Run Speed Up). So what’s the magic ability formula for Undercover Brella domination?

The truth is that it’s a tricky question because what abilities you choose will depend a lot of the kit you have available and your personal style of play. Still, with the Undercover Brella my guiding philosophy is this: Lean in to the strengths of the weapon. Sure, there are some things this weapon doesn’t do well, but there are some things it do really well, and ideally your gear will want to double down on the latter to maximize its potential.

Let’s break down the abilities to see which ones are the best for this Brella.

Critical Abilities

Quick Respawn: Remember those Brella strengths I was talking about? Yeah, eliminating opponents is not one of them.

The Undercover Brella occupies an odd position in the game because it wants to be played as an aggressive slayer, but won’t actually slay too many people. Instead, it wants to be the Sam Hunt of Splatoon and just “Take Your Time”: Engage you, distract you, stall you, and generally keep you from doing what you were planning to do. Sure, it will take a splat if it can get one, but with its low per-shot damage and mediocre fire rate, you’re usually going to be on the losing end of a straight-up duel, and your K/D ratios will tilt heavily towards the denominator (especially in anarchy battles, where the objective forces more confrontation).

In Splatoon, Quick Respawn shortened your respawn time every time you died, making it incredibly powerful because you could buzz around an opponent like a mosquito for the entire match—no matter how many times they splatted you, they could never actually get rid of you. This was toned down for Splatoon 2 and Splatoon 3, activating only if you died without having splatted an opponent first. For bloodthirsty slayers that gave as much as they took, this lessened QR’s utility a lot, but for Undercover Brellas that struggle to confirm splats, it’s still comes into play a fair amount, and thus helps keep you in the fight and in the face of your adversaries.

How Much? I would start with at least 1 main slot of QR, but you could make an argument for another sub of top of that. From a base respawn time of 7.5 seconds, 1 main drops this wait to 6.3 seconds, but 1 main 1 sub cuts it to just under 6. 1 main 2 subs cuts it further to 5.67 seconds, but at some point you’ll need to balance it with your abilities.

Run Speed Up: The first big strength of the Undercover Brella is mobility: As a lightweight weapon, it lets you quickly cover ground as both a kid or squid/octopus, helping you reach the key positions you’ll want to hold (and hopefully buying you time to prepare before your opponents show up). There are two abilities that assist you with movement speed, but Run Speed Up is the more-important one for the Undercover Brella for three reasons:

  • Your shield (a.k.a. your primary mode of defense) is only deployed when your weapon is firing, which means that standing and firing is going to be your default position.
  • Your goal of getting in your opponent’s way and wasting their time means that you’ll usually find yourself in contested territory, where enemy ink will make swimming more difficult.
  • Your shield can absorb damage, sure, but there’s a nifty little secret to making it last longer: Don’t let your opponents hit it in the first place. You may be “standing and firing,” but you’re never standing still: You’ll be strafing left and right, you’ll be jumping, you’ll be pressing forward or pulling back, and you’ll generally be doing your best impression of Neo from The Matrix to keep your opponent from landing their shots.

In the heat of battle, Run Speed Up makes your Brella dance moves that much faster, which can be the difference between winning and losing a fight.

How Much? I tend to like 3 sub slots of RSU over 1 main slot, because (at least according to it gets you the same amount of movement while firing as a main slot, while only be one unit per frame below 1 main when not firing (and let’s be honest: If you’re standing, you’re firing). This can free up your main slots for other useful abilities that we’ll discuss later…

You can stack on a few more subs of RSU if you want (for example, 5 subs gives you the same firing mobility as a Sploosh-o-matic, but just as with QR, you’ll need to balance this with the rest of your abilities.

Useful Abilities

Swim Speed Up: I don’t consider Swim Speed Up quite a critical as Run Speed Up, but the difference is pretty small. Proper positioning on the map can be crucial to getting the upper hand on your opponent, and Swim Speed Up will get you to that position in a hurry, whether it be the objective, a crucial piece of high ground, or a choke point close to your enemy’s spawn. It’s the sort of ability that any weapons can benefit from, and this Brella is no exception.

How Much? I’ve been experimenting with 1 main slot right now, but you can adjust this based on how aggressive or passive you tend to play. If you want to play deep on your opponent’s side of the field, you can try a little more; if you’re mostly riding the tower or otherwise playing objective, you can trade some SSU for extra RSU.

Ink Recovery Up: The second strength of the Undercover Brella is efficiency: Each shot consumes 4% of your ink tank, so a full tank gives you 25 shots to work with (don’t worry about your sub weapon; we’ll talk about that later), which I’ve found to be more than enough to engage the enemy and help pitch in with map control without worrying about the low fuel light coming on. Still, no one likes being stuck at the gas pump, and if your moments to rest in squid/octopus form as few and far between, you’ll want to take advantage of any free moment you have to keep the tank full.

How Much? I tend to run 1 main of IRU, which is admittedly more than most other players. The numbers on (3 seconds to fill an empty tank with no IRU, 2.68 seconds with 1 main) don’t look that impressive, but it’s a very noticeable difference in the field—the ink line just seems to rocket back to the top of the tank, and I find I can paint 1000+ points worth of turf while rarely running into ink management trouble.

Special Gear Abilities To Consider

Comeback: So if mobility and efficiency are the best things for your Brella, why not equip something that gives you both? Comeback is a main-slot ability that gives you a temporary post-death boost: For the first 20 seconds after respawning, you will get:

  • 10 “ability points” (essentially a main slot’s worth) of Ink Saver Main
  • 10 AP of Ink Saver Sub
  • 10 AP of Ink Recovery Up
  • 10 AP of Run Speed Up
  • 10 AP of Swim Speed Up, and
  • 10 AP of Special Charge Up

This covers every useful ability except Quick Respawn, plus gives you a bunch of other buffs that are nice to have. What’s not to like?

Should I Use It? With an ability like this, the question comes back to playstyle. If you’re playing aggressively and getting splatted a lot, Comeback can be a real lifesaver, but if you’re not dying all that much, it might be better to go with the individual abilities so that they’re active at all times.

Last-Ditch Effort: This ability is activate during the last 30 seconds of a Turf War, or when an opponent pushes their counter below 50 in an anarchy battle (it activates gradually, achieving its full effect when the enemy counter hits 30). At full power, you get:

  • 15 AP of Ink Saver Main
  • 15 AP of Ink Saver Sub
  • 15 AP of Ink Recovery Up

I would rank this one below Comeback because it doesn’t offer any mobility perks, and if you’re not married to lots of Ink Recovery Up like I am, none of the efficiency bonuses are all that helpful. It’s worth thinking about, but…

Should I Use It? You’re probably better off just dedicating the main slot to Comeback or Quick Respawn directly.

Possibly-Useful Abilities

Intensify Action: This ability relates to the new Squid Surge and Squid Roll abilities in Splatoon 3: It lowers the Surge charge time, lets you keep your momentum during consecutive Rolls, and reduces the jump accuracy penalty for both moves.

While I’ll admit that I’ve yet to master their techniques to any degree on the battlefield, but even beyond this fact, I don’t think this ability is terribly useful on the Undercover Brella:

  • The weapon has no jump RNG to speak of.
  • A Squid Surge means more sense for weapons with faster kill times, but when your weapon is a slow three-shot kill in the best of times, you’ll be back on the ground long before you take out your opponent.
  • The Squid Roll can let you dodge shots and reduce the damage of those that hit you…but that’s kind of what your shield is for, and unlike your shield, you can’t attack while you’re rolling (at least to start).

How Much? Only use this ability if you’re a heavy Squid Roll user, and even then I wouldn’t invest any more than 1 sub slot in it.

Ninja Squid: Ninja Squid hides the little splashes that pop out of the ink while you’re swimming, helping you sneak around the map without being detected (it’s not foolproof, but it’s pretty darn good). I don’t like this on the Undercover Brella because a stealth approach doesn’t fit the weapon very well: You want your opponents to know where you are and have to deal with you, and sharking for quick kills doesn’t work when your weapons kills as slowly as the Undercover Brella does (the opponent has plenty of time to react to your appearance). Given that a) you’ll be doing most of your work while standing, and b) the ability reduces your mobility by slowing down your swim speed, I would say you have better uses for that slot.

Should I Use It? Only if you find you really need to get into certain positions on a map.

Ink Saver Main: I tend to use this on a lot of weapons (including the Undercover Brella), but the truth is that the numbers just don’t add up. 1 sub slot of ISM basically gets you a whopping one extra shot per ink tank, and if you’re careful with your ink tank (and lots of Ink Recovery Up!), you can probably get better value from other abilities.

How Much? If you’re going to use ISM, the ideal amount is 1 main and 1 sub slot. 1 main by itself just barely misses giving you four extra shots on a full tank, while 1 main 1 sub gives you 5 more shots per tank and 2 extra shots after using an Ink Mine.

One Sub Only

Quick Super Jump, Sub Resistance Up, and Ink Resistance Up: I tend to subscribe to the “3 subs” theory: These three abilities help so much with just one sub slot that they’re worth putting on darn near every build you make.

  • Quick Super Jump cuts down on the amount that you’re vulnerable while preparing to super jump, and makes the jump slightly faster as well.
  • Sub Resistance Up blocks just enough damage from sub weapons that it can break many common damage combos that really on them.
  • Ink Resistance buys you a sliver of time before enemy ink slows you down and starts damaging you, while also reducing the passive damage that enemy ink can do. It’s super helpful when you’re working in contested areas, which is where the Brella will be most of the time.

How Much? If there’s one that you could dedicate a few more slots to, it’s Ink Resistance (for example, 1 main can really free up your movement in crucial spots), but generally you’ll want to stick to 1 sub slot of all three.

Not Worth Using

I’ll try to go through these quickly:

Ink Saver Sub: Ink Mines may eat 60% of your ink tank, but it’s not a sub weapon you’re going to be spamming like a regular bomb, and you’re rarely going to use it in a hurry. You’ll generally be able to take whatever time you need to lay the trap and replenish your ink, so you won’t be caught short of firepower later.

Special Charge Up: At a reasonable 180 points, you generally won’t have too much trouble charging your Reefslider, and even if you do, much like with Ink Saver Main the benefits don’t accumulate fast enough to make it worth using (a full main slot only knocks fourteen points off your total).

Special Saver: Ditto Special Charge Up: Even if you lose 50% of your special when splatted, it’s not that hard or slow to recharge. Even with one sub saving about 9% of your meter, you’ve got better things to use your slots for.

Special Power Up: This might be the worst-stacking ability of the bunch: A full main slot of Special Power Up extends the blast/paint radius of Reefslider by a measly 6% (and it’s not that big to begin with). Don’t bother with it.

Sub Power Up: This stack slightly better than Special Power Up, but not by much: A full main gives extends your mine’s tracking radius by 10% and its damage radius by about 11%. You do get an extra 1.5 seconds of tracking time, but that’s likely going to be eaten into by the opponent’s own Sub Resistance Up. It’s not a great use of your slots.

Opening Gambit: This gives you 30 AP of Run Speed Up, Swim Speed Up, and Ink Resistance, which would be awesome if it lasted more than the first 30 seconds of the match. You can extend its duration in Splatoon 2 and Splatoon 3 by splatting opponents, but that’s the one thing the Undercover Brella really struggles with. It’s not worth using with any weapon, but it’s a particularly bad match for the Undercover Brella.

Respawn Punisher: I’m seeing this thing a ton on slayer weapons for some reason, but this might actually be a worse ability for the Undercover Brella than Opening Gambit! “Respawn Punisher increases the respawn time and the amount of [special points] that is lost to both the user and opponents defeated by the user.” If you’re a slayer that struggles to slay and thus will wind up with some awful K/D ratios, you’re going to be hurting yourself way more than you’ll be hurting your competition.

Stealth Jump: A lot of people seem to use this ability on the Undercover Brella.

These people are wrong.

The funny thing about the Undercover Brella is that you actually want people to see your super jump landing spot, especially cheeky anchor weapons that think they can get an easy splat. However, by holding ZR as you prepare for landing, you’ll start shooting and deploy your shield, which means that if you know which direction the anchor is shooting from (this is especially easy to find with chargers thanks to their laser), you’ll land, eat the shot with your shield, and back away to safety, successfully accomplishing your goal of wasting their time.

If a nearby weapon can camp your jump, they’ll be able to see your landing spot anyway since Stealth Jump only hides it when from faraway opponents, and while you might be toast in either case, you’ve still got a shield’s worth of damage to use to make your getaway (although knowing what direction to aim your shield is much harder). The only potential downside is that a faraway short-range weapon might notice your jump and be able to meet you at the spot, which to me isn’t enough to justify wasting a main slot’s worth of ability points.

Drop Roller: This is sort of in the same boat as Stealth Jump: It’s only useful for Super Jumps, and you’ve already got your shield to help cover for you. It’s not helpful enough to justify running it here.

Object Shredder: Yeah, you’re going to be terrible at shredding objects whether you’ve using this or not. Next!

Haunt: Allows you to track opponents who splatted you no matter where they’re hiding, and applies some Respawn Punisher effects if you actually splat them. Given how long it might you to revenge-splat someone, it might have some use in a team setting where you can call out the enemy’s location to others, but otherwise the location data isn’t that useful, and you’re not going to confirm enough splats to make it worthwhile.

Tenacity: You’ll be able to fill your special gauge easily enough without the penalty-kill bonus that Tenacity offers. It’s just not worth it.

Thermal Ink: Provides the same tracking ability as Haunt, but is time-limited to sixty seconds. Given that your encounters will likely end in someone getting splatted (either you or your opponent), its utility is limited on the Undercover Brella.

While I’m still working on perfecting my ability set for the Undercover Brella in Splatoon 3, hopefully this guide will give you some ideas on how to put the best set together for you. Since this post is specifically for the Vanilla Undercover Brella in Splatoon 3, my plan is to put together a future post about how this list might change when new kits arrive.

Happy splatting!

Kyle’s Favorite Video Game Characters of 2022

Josh Allen with Frederica Aesfrost's head on his body.

With the year-end lists out and 2022 nearly in the books, I wanted to set aside my schedule for a moment and dive into the world of video game characters, and talk about how an elite few rose above the rest of the field through their play both on and off the field.

I played primarily tactical RPGs and sports games this year, which tend to have lots of positions to fill and thus are dependent on having a large cast of characters to do the job. Some may have higher stats and different attributes than others, but to be considered one of my “favorites,” they needed to step up and distinguish themselves (not unlike the best songs of the year) through their effectiveness, the different playstyles they enabled, and perhaps even their evolution and thought process as a character. Here are the characters that I enjoyed the most in 2022, and we’ll start with the hitter no one saw coming.

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Jose “Read ‘Em Their Rights” Miranda

As someone who has considered putting “video game proficiency” on their resume, it kills me to admit that I am really bad at hitting in MLB The Show 22. I swing at pitches nowhere near the strike zone, I swing at pitches long before they ever reach the plate, and I destroy the batting average of any player who sits in my lineup for any length of time. A player that manages to hit .200 with me on the controller is miraculous, and my .274 average with Harold Baines is my primary argument for why the man belongs in the Hall of Fame.

I had no idea Miranda even existed before earning his Monthly Award card a few months ago, but somehow, some way, he’s the one player who has been able to defy my batting eye and break my batting curse, raking to the tune of a .444 average in online play (including an incredible .750 against left-handed pitching!). He’s not exactly a power guy (the vast majority of his hits are singles, with only one ball reaching the outfield seats), but at this point, I’ll take anyone who can get on base, and Miranda has done it with surprising consistency.

His decent defense and passable speed are nothing to write home about, but what stands out on the field is his flexibility: He can play any position in the infield and play it well, with only a single error to his name (and none in online play. His bat and glove can fit anywhere in your lineup and on your team, giving you plenty of room to experiment with team compositions around him.

Players like Miranda, the ones that burst into your consciousness and make an immediate impact in your lineup, are what make a game like MLB The Show 22 exciting, and there will be a few more entries like that on this list.

Image from IGN


I’ve already gushed over Hughette’s brilliance in Triangle Strategy, but Luigi is even better in Mario + Rabbids: Sparks Of Hope. The biggest difference is just how far his weapon can reach: His attack range is not only far better than Hughette’s, it might be the best range I’ve seen in any game outside of Stephen Curry. (The closest comparison I can recall is Jeff Garcia from Madden 2002, throwing long bombs to Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes.)

On the field, Luigi’s decent movement range and ability to team jump twice means that he can both cover a lot of ground and reach key high points on the map as well as Flugie. Paired with Ethering (the invisibility Spark), he becomes a must-pick for ‘reach area’ maps, as he can get a quick launch using his teammates and then sneak undetected through the enemy defenses to reach the goal. Finally, while he lacks the array of special attacks that Hughette does, his Steely Stare can inflict some serious pain on moving foes no matter where they are on the map.

I really like what the M + R team has done with Luigi, going beyond the “Jumpman with more jump” idea that Nintendo has carried all the way from Super Mario Bros. 2 to make him a more unique individual with some serious strengths that you can leverage. I’m kind of tempted to find an old copy of NBA Street v3 and see just how well Mr. L can shoot the three ball…

Image from Tiermaker

Quahaug Viscraft

Quahaug was a late addition to my Triangle Strategy team due to his stat requirements (I ignored Utility for my first playthrough, and Quahaug requires a perfect SAT score in that stat to join you), but he made an impact the moment he stepped onto the battlefield. His offense and defense are pretty bad compared to your other units, and I never found much use for most of his special abilities, but there was one ability I leaned on a lot: Warped Space, which moved a unit to any nearby space regardless of whether said space was normally reachable or not. Suddenly, no ground was too high for any unit to reach, and the results were often devastating.

The technique was useful anywhere, but urban environments were where Quahaug shined brightest. Rooftops that could generally only be accessed by flyers or jumpers like Hughette and Maxwell were suddenly open to units like Frederica and Archibald, and if the enemy couldn’t get a flyer or magic user in position to reach them, you could control large areas of the map and reign destruction down on your foes while being pretty much invincible yourself.

Quahaug was valuable in more-conventional situations as well (a well-timed move could save one of your units or KO an opponent), but it was those rooftop skirmishes that made Quahaug a name to remember, and a really good guy to have around in a tight spot.

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Albert “The Machine” Pujols

Look, everybody knows that Pujols is one of the best hitters of all-time: Over 3,000 hits, over 700 home runs, blah blah blah. However, Pujols also took the mound for the first time this year, and MLB The Show 22 decided to make a card commemerating the occasion. Everyone loves watching position players try to hold their own on the mound, but while Pujols struggled a bit in reality (“36.00 ERA? He’s not getting into the Hall of Fame” said everyone simultaneously on Twitter), the man has been money on the mound for me in The Show.

Of all the relief pitchers that have toed the rubber for me online, only Darren O’Day has more innings while sporting a zero ERA like Pujols does. He may not be my first choice in the tightest of tight spots (that would be Drew Pomeranz or Ryne Stanek, a.k.a. “Ryan Strikeout”), but he’s faced his share of high-leverage situations and managed to come out clean every time. (Honestly, slow pitches befuddle players online as much as triple-digit heaters do.) Plus, it’s always amusing to hear Chris Singleton say “He’s the pitcher, he can’t hurt you!” whenever Pujols the pitcher gets an at-bat (spoiler alert: He can hurt you…a lot). I have fun messing with people using lower-rated pitchers from my bullpen, and striking out people with one of the greatest batsmen ever is more satisfying than you could imagine. Now where’s our Yadier Molina pitching card?

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Does a Sprinkler count as a character? As a standard sub weapon, no, but as a Tableturf card, it’s been a really satisfying addition to the team.

I’ve complained a fair amount about all the problems with Splatoon 3, but the game deserves some props for what it does right, and Tableturf battles have been a really fun mode to play (even without the online play that’s eventually coming…maybe). From my experience, the best approach is to include card with a variety of square counts in your deck (some with few squares, some with a lot of squares, and a bunch in the middle), and try to go from largest to smallest during the game (grab large chunks of territory early, and then start filling in the constantly-shrinking holes in the map as the game progresses).

So what puts the Sprinkler on this list over, say, a Splat Bomb or a Sloshing Machine (a solid pick in both Turf War and Tableturf)? The Sprinkler is here not because it’s the .96 Gal’s trusted sidekick, but because its small size and strategic layout made it a great late-game play to both add to your turf total and to fill in holes around “special squares,” which can rack up special points, which can let you make a big closing move, which can potentially turn the tide of battle. The triangular Sprinkler always seems to fit into a tight-yet-crucial spot in the last three turns, making it a catalyst for victory and proving that big things do indeed come in small packages.

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Kris “Rage Quit” Bryant

As a card, the “Future Stars” version of Kris Bryant doesn’t hold up well against the late-season power creep of MLB The Show 22 (heck, it’s not even the best Kris Bryant in the game anymore thanks to the 97-rated Finest version). Still, he’s been a fixture of my lineup for much of the year because he does a lot of things fairly well: His 8 home runs online are second only to my cover-athlete Javy Baez’s 13, he plays every position on the field except pitcher and catcher (something his 97-rated counterpart can’t do), and he’s managed to keep his average in the ballpark of .200 despite my terrible batting eye. He’s a solid ballplayer, but “solid” and “favorite” are two different things, so what makes this card worthy of this list?

Bryant is here for his uncanny ability to tilt opponents and drive them to rage quit from the game. Baseball can be a long game and folks don’t like to wait around if they’re losing, but Bryant had a unique talent for pushing people over the edge (usually with a key home run; Bryant can mash left-handed pitching) and causing them to walk away. Such power was both a blessing and a curse: You might win the game, but you wouldn’t get much credit towards the inning-based rewards for that season. Still, it just meant you had to play more games (and give Bryant had more chances to irritate an opponent), and while DC wins weren’t always satisfying, they were always amusing.

Image from Tiermaker

Jens Marcher

Jens is here for pretty much the same reason Quahaug is: He’s doesn’t offer a ton in terms of offense or defense (he has better physical stats than Quahaug, but is particularly vulnerable to magic), but his abilities could completely change the game by giving you an edge in the field position battle.

Triangle Strategy will often try to start you in a less-than-ideal position and force you to fight your way out of it—for example, putting you at the bottom of a ridge with your opponents occupying the high ground. Jens’s ladders, however, can give you an immediate path to the top by letting you scale walls of any height, flipping the script on an enemy force and potentially letting you take down their forces piecemeal instead of facing them head on. Giving him to Vanguard Scarf to let him move first compounds the advantage by getting the ladders set up more quickly and thus giving your team a head start on the path to success.

Now, if you have the height advantage in a battle, Jens actually becomes more fun to use: His Spring Trap ability lets you place traps that fling your enemies in a direction of your choice, which in my case was whatever direction would fling them back over the side of the cliff they had just climbed :). Throw in a Slumber Strike ability that could incapacitate an enemy for a few turns while you dealt with the rest of your opponents, and you have a character that offers lots of strategic value and makes victory that much sweeter.

Image from IGN

Rabbid Mario

I don’t think any character is truly overpowered in Mario + Rabbids: Sparks Of Hope, but Rabbid Mario comes the closest to that level. He’s the only official melee character in the game, and as such he’s got the HP and attack power to be a solid tank option. What makes him the most fun, however, is his synergy with certain Sparks, specifically Glitter and their ability to draw enemies close to you from a surprisingly-long distance away. You can just drop Rabbid Mario into the middle of the enemy positions, use Glitter to bring them all together, and then choose the tool of destruction of your choice: An AoE Spark like Toxiquake? An AoE long-distance character like Peach or Bowser? Or do you simply put up your Dukes (whose attack range may be short, but is inexplicably wide) and pound them all into pudding? Depending on the initial enemy positioning, you can oftentimes end battles in a single turn using this tactic. (While admittedly any character can have success doing this with the right AoE Spark, Rabbid Mario gives you the most options in a crowd.)

On top on this, Rabbid Mario’s overconfident (and occasionally over-aggressive) personality shines through a lot more in Sparks Of Hope than it did in Kingdom Battle. The voice acting adds a lot of figurative color to the character, and the way he reacts to attacking, being attacked, or even opening a treasure chest never fails to make you chuckle. He’s just a fun rabbit who packs a punch and has far more swagger than is justified, and you’d want him in your party whether he was any good on the battlefield or not.

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Alec “The G.O.A.T.” Mills

Much like the Splatoon 2 developers’ dilemma with the Kensa .52 Gal, no one could figure out what to do with Mills. He bounced between starting and relieving several times over the course of the year (the distinction makes a difference, as relievers don’t ever have 100% stamina and starters can’t be used in relief later), and while he was okay coming out of the bullpen, for some reason this man was the best pitcher in the entire game. The numbers don’t lie: In eleven starts, Mills posted seven quality starts, four complete games, three shutouts, and at least two incredible “WTF?” games that have been seared into my memory and Twitter feed. This guy was one of the cards I got randomly in my starter deck, and he dominated teams better than 90% of my diamond starters. How was this possible?

I think the primary culprit was pitch speed differential: His 89 MPH sinker and fastball, 77-79 MPH slider and changeup, and 68 MPH curveball made it really hard to identify and time his pitches, especially for impatient players who wanted to blast everything into the upper deck. His patented 12-6 curve in the dirt would also devastate anyone who didn’t have pristine plate discipline (seriously, those pitches look so good…right up until they don’t). Put the two together, and you had a lot of confused and frustrated opponents who couldn’t find a way to punish me for starting a Bronze pitcher with the velocity of a snail.

Mills is the sort of underdog that players like me live for, the type of unheralded role player that punches above their weight class and beats the odds to find success. (It also lets the player feel like they can share in the accomplishment; if a player really isn’t that good, then the difference must have been your skill and decision-making, right?) These players are always fun to find, and I can’t wait to see who steps up to shine next year.

Image from Tiermaker

Frederica “Kensa .52 Gal” Aesfrost

Come on, you knew this was coming. Having Frederica on your squad is like having Tom Brady on your football team—as long as they’re still standing, you’re never out of it. Frederica had at least as many signature moments as Mills, from winning a 1v4 battle to steal a victory in the Roselle village to two-shotting all three of Hyzante’s vaunted automaton knights and then pivoting back to help fry Idore in the battle for Rosellan freedom. (Jorge López is lucky that Frederica chose not to pursue a career on the diamond; with that much firepower, I would have kicked him out of the closer’s role and given it to her in a heartbeat.) This lady was a one-woman wrecking crew, and probably the best DPS character I had the honor to work with this year.

As a pawn in the Aesfrosti system who found the space and the strength to assert her independence, Frederica’s off-the-field story was just as powerful as her fiery magic, and the reason I chose to free the Roselle on my first playthrough was because I simply couldn’t say no to her (plus Benedict never seemed to be that useful in battle). Her convictions were as strong as her Scorch attack, and for as much as Triangle Strategy could feel like an interactive movie sometimes, she was the clear breakout star of the show (and deserves a spin-off title next year!). As much as I enjoyed every character on this list (and many more), Frederica was the best of the bunch that I encountered in 2022.